The Armageddon Dance Party
nytheatre.com review by Pun Bandhu
August 19, 2006
With war, pestilence, and natural disasters omnipresent in our daily lives, one does not need to stretch the imagination very far to think that Armageddon is approaching. There is an ancient Zen Khoan that asks, "The universe is burning. What do you do?" In David L. Williams' insightful play The Armageddon Dance Party, his answer would be: dance.
The nine Gen-Xers in this play face the impending apocalypse with similar Zen-like detachment. In fact, much of the humor in the play hinges on it. John (Tommy Day Carey) isn't sure if he heard the radio announcer say that Armageddon or CAR-mageddon, a monster truck rally, is coming. He calls his friend Tom (David Matranga), who is one of the few people he knows who actually watches the news. Tom brings a few friends with him, who in turn brings more people, most of whom are oblivious that the end of the world is nigh. When Tom notices that the sun has burned out, Armageddon is confirmed and pandemonium ensues. The panic is replaced quickly by a lackadaisical resignation and soon, the new friends are waxing poetic about the things that they WON'T miss—genocide, child molestation, Nascar. This is a generation, Williams points out, who has learned that the moral of "Peter Rabbit" is that apathy and ignorance are rewarded. Indeed, this group of 30-somethings seem almost resentful against the Baby Boomers who have seemingly already accomplished all there is to achieve. One of the conspiracy theories that are tossed out in the play is that the Baby Boomers have engineered the apocalypse so that no one else will be able to lead after them!
The play starts out slowly and takes a while to build. The apathy begins to get tiresome. Williams is well served by director Kara-Lynn Vaeni, who has cast the play to accentuate the differences between the characters as much as possible (aided by Camille Assaf's astute costume design). Even when the script gets tedious, the dynamics are still engaging. Vaeni makes the dance sequences, which could have been repetitive, fun to watch. The numerous blackouts, though, seems to impede the momentum of the play.
The second act turns darker and much more interesting as Williams begins exploring how humans would respond to a situation where they have nothing to lose. One woman decides she would rather make her death mean something than simply submit to the mass murder that the fates have in store for her. She asks a new friend to kill her. This sparks a sequence of events that releases an amoral Pandora's box of lust, desire, greed, and envy.
Some may be disappointed by the play's plot twist ending. Williams hasn't found a good way to satisfactorily take his exciting premise any further: he has the hostess directly address the audience, the first time this has happened in the play. (Lordan Napoli, a standout in this uneven cast who cuts a mean rug to boot, as the Boomers might say, plays this character.) Still, there are many astute observations made by this promising playwright, and the play seems to reflect something in the Zeitgeist. If anything, the moral of this play is that apathy is just a side effect of an inability to feel special. We would all rather face apocalypse with people who appreciate our uniqueness than continue to spend time on earth as a numbed face in the crowd.